Remembering a remarkable night in Watford FC history

The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from previous issues.

Following Saturday’s 6-0 victory over Bristol City, David Harrison remembers the wonderful Southampton League Cup ties in 1980, culminating in another six-goal margin of victory on one of the most remarkable nights in Watford’s history.

I remember it clearly. Luther thrashed a loose ball into the roof of the net at the old Den and we were through to Round 2 of the League Cup. It was a hell of a goal, but with it being Millwall, despite the fact there was almost nobody there, we knew to show no reaction. Lips were bitten, hands plunged deep into pockets and agreement reached to not even talk about it until safely back in the car, headed out of SE14 and on the way back to God’s Country. We’d beaten the Lions 2-1 at The Vic in the first leg, but Luther’s goal, and another by Steve Sims, clinched our passage into the next round.

The reward was a two-leg tie against First Division glamour club Southampton. Fresh from a top-half league finish, the Saints were expected to mount a serious title challenge and had opened the season like a house on fire. Their first five league games realised four wins and a draw. Their squad read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of international football, although a few of the bigger names were past their best. Chris Nicholl, Ivan Golac, Dave Watson, Alan Ball, Charlie George, Kevin Keegan and Mick Channon were all on the books, with only the 35-year-old Ball not featuring in the first leg.

Watford meanwhile were in a state of flux. League safety had been secured late the previous season, confirmed by a pair of 4-0 home wins, over Fulham and Burnley, bookending a chastening 5-0 defeat at promoted Sunderland, when the old Roker Park stands literally shook. Jackett, Callaghan and Terry had been eased into the side, but only the first of those had become a regular.

League form at the start of 80/81 was patchy. We were generally decent at home, but failed to win an away league game until February. At Chelsea, amusingly, to save you looking. So fresh from away defeats at Luton (there’s a surprise) and Cambridge, we travelled south more in hope than expectation, while nevertheless looking to create a favourable impression as GT began his fourth season with the club. The outcome, however, was considerably worse than we’d feared. We had a moderate pint in a forgettable pub on Southampton Common and strolled down to the ground on a balmy August evening. That was very definitely as good as it got.

We were comprehensively outplayed, from start to finish. The ghastly surroundings (only those voluntarily sentenced to a spell of confinement in the Archers Road End cage at The Dell will understand) merely added to the misery of what became a progressively more dismal evening.

It seemed little consolation at the time, but we were incredibly fortunate to escape with just a 4-0 defeat….

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